|My parents' grave at the Naval Academy|
As November comes to a close, I'm thinking about how I want to keep Advent. Every month the Catholic calendar invites us to reflect on something special in the Christian life. For November, it was remembering the dead and I decided to go to a cemetery every day and pray the chaplet of the Sacred Heart. "O sweetest Heart of Jesus I implore that I may ever love Thee more and more." I only missed a few days and visiting cemeteries made me acutely aware of the shortness of life and the reality of death.
The longest life I found was a gentleman in a cemetery near my house who lived to the age of 110, but most in the graveyard lived far fewer years. Many died years before my current age. There were graves of young people in the prime of life. I wondered how they died. There were graves for babies who lived only a few days, and I thought of the grief of their parents as they laid their little ones in the cold ground and I prayed for their comfort. It was a month of mourning with plenty of tears -- for the loss of my own family and friends and for all the strangers many with names well-known in our little town.
At the cemetery in downtown Woodstock behind Massanutten Military Academy where my brother is buried, there's a grave of a little child. It's well decorated with a Christmas tree, toy trucks, a train, plastic animals, and blocks. It was overgrown with weeds and vines traveling up into the Christmas tree. I spent ten minutes pulling them up. There is something too too sad about an untidy resting place for a little one.
Now that November is ending, I'm thinking about Advent. How do I want to keep this season well in preparation for the coming of our Lord? Certainly I'm going to go to daily Mass and pray the rosary every day. That's part of our regular routine all year round. I also ran off the prayers for the St. Andrew novena which began yesterday. For this month, it will take the place of the perpetual novena we pray every night for our family. We will offer the St. Andrew novena for them instead. I also plan to be more faithful to the prayers in my Magnificat as well -- to make a circle of prayer from morning to evening.
I haven't decided yet what sacrifices I want to make. I keep considering the possibility of giving up coffee, but fear my own weakness. Would I really persevere? I could give up cream, but then I might as well give up the coffee too. Or should I choose something I'm more confident I will actually do? Perhaps sweets. That would be hard as well with a big box of chocolate-covered shortbread on top of the refrigerator. Of course, I could put it in the freezer...out of sight out of mind. I think I'll do that.
What I want to do most, however, is to keep the coming of the Lord in front of my mind's eye throughout the day. I want to walk the 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem with Mary and Joseph. I have a book with pictures of the Holy Land. I think perhaps I'll look at the photos and imagine how it must have been on that long, weary journey.
Most of my Christmas shopping and wrapping is done, so that won't be much of a distraction and Christmas cards can wait. Every worthwhile journey begins with a first step which begins today. Four of our grandchildren are coming for brunch and staying for the day. I think we'll put up the tree with them and begin the season by letting each one put on a Jesse tree ornament. No lights -- that will be for later, but the apples will go on for Adam and Eve. And then we'll read a little of the genesis story, light the Advent wreath and sing O Come O Come Emmanuel. That sounds like a good beginning. Please pray for our family during this season as we will pray for yours.
Have a blessed first Sunday of Advent!